My Family Member's Mental Health Crisis - What Can I Do?
If you are the family member or significant other of an individual who has been recently diagnosed with a mental illness, or is currently struggling with a mental health crisis, there are a few things that are helpful to know:
1. The emotions and uncertainty of a recent diagnosis or mental health crisis will likely affect your mental health, too. Your acknowledgment, acceptance, and understanding that you are emotionally impacted by the struggle of your significant other is important. Accepting your own challenges will help you to navigate your approach, your role, your responsibilities, and your capabilities in this new situation.
2. A person diagnosed with a mental illness or in the midst of a crisis isn’t broken. The emotions associated with this current situation are not permanent. Mental health disorders are treatable. People who have suffered massively and seemingly inexorably can and do go on to lead productive and happy lives. Treatment is integral to this process. There is hope - and with acceptance, love, and support, prognoses improve.
3a) If your family member has been diagnosed with or is experiencing the symptoms of a major mental illness - one in which the person struggles with significant breaks with reality (i.e. schizophrenia, bipolar, and other diagnoses in which psychosis can occur) then it is wise to connect with resources for those diagnosis and symptoms in your local area. There are support and advocacy groups in larger cities. If you live outside of a city it may be worth a weekly drive in order to attend and speak with those who are advocating or living with the same challenges. There is support and comfort in numbers, and the reminder that we are not alone can act as a shield when we become overwhelmed.
b) Consider applying for a Community Mental Health representative/worker with the health or hospital authority in your region. Acceptance into Community Mental Health will allow you access to government workers whose occupation it is to advocate for and arrange appropriate care. Mental health workers can connect individuals diagnosed with mental illnesses with therapists, support workers, and psychiatrists. They can assist wth finding a place to live, and finding a job. They can also help you to navigate Employment and Income Assistance, support groups, and many other resources. Participation in Community Mental Health is voluntary, and individuals can engage with this program as they see fit. Connecting wth this program can help families navigate a sometimes confusing and intimidating mental health system.
4. Find an experienced, credentialed therapist who has worked with navigating the mental health system to help guide both the person diagnosed or suffering and your family. Such informed support and guidance will increase the probability for future success, and provide you with coping strategies and approaches for dealing with the stress, emotions, and behaviours that you are likely experiencing and witnessing. Remember, when you start with acceptance, love, and support you are already on the right track.
5. Listen to your family member or significant other who is struggling. Your acknowledgment of the struggles that they are living through, without judgement, will open the channel for future conversations. Actively listening without judgment or direction establishes trust and reminds the person that you love and support them. Listening to a person and acknowledging that what they feel currently is real, and difficult, doesn’t mean that you are agreeing with their appraisal of their current situation, but it does signal that you are a safe person to talk to. When we are safe to talk to, we gain more insight and our eventual input into the situation is more likely to be listened to in return.
6. Take care of yourself first. Just like on a depressurized airplane - secure your own mask before helping others. If you aren’t in an emotionally stable place, it will be more difficult for you to respond with support, and if needed, guidance for your loved one who is struggling or who has been recently diagnosed.
If you are currently dealing with a mental health crisis - talk to someone. There is help and there is hope.
Luke Keilback, M.Sc. BCBA
Mental Strength Therapy and Consulting